Co-Designing Urban Planning Engagement and Innovation: Using LEGO® to Facilitate Collaboration, Participation and Ideas

Open Access Journal | ISSN: 2183-7635

Article | Open Access | Ahead of Print | Last Modified: 23 March 2022

Co-Designing Urban Planning Engagement and Innovation: Using LEGO® to Facilitate Collaboration, Participation and Ideas

  • Mark Tewdwr-Jones Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis, University College London, UK
  • Alexander Wilson School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape, Newcastle University, UK

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Abstract:  There is a growing academic interest in the idea of co-designing methods to achieve urban innovation and urban planning. As we see cities as “living laboratories,” beyond the control of elected city government, there is a momentum to develop and test shared responses to the social, environmental, and economic challenges present in contemporary urbanism. These living laboratories are a function of open innovation or “quadruple helix” actors, drawn from state, business, higher education, and community sectors. However, translating the often-good intention principles of working together through shared and co-designed arrangements in any major urban area is often a significant challenge and a topic neglected to date. This article addresses this gap through the case study of Newcastle City Futures, a university-anchored platform in the northeast of the UK, that sought to co-design collaborative urban research, public engagement, and innovation. Newcastle City Futures created novel working methods centred on participatory games to facilitate shared understanding and joint ideas for new urban innovation projects across established sectors. This article will examine one method that was successful in generating collaboration and participation: “LEGO® mash-ups.” Detailed empirical accounts of the development of the LEGO® mash-up method are used to illustrate attitudes to urban challenges, the fostering of a spirit of open collaboration, and the development of innovative responses through co-design. These are used to support the conceptual argument that the use of the quadruple helix as a form of urban innovation system needs to be accompanied by accessible, workable, and easily interpreted translation methods, such as games, by intermediaries.

Keywords:  co-design; engagement; innovation; LEGO®; LEGO® mash-up; Newcastle City Futures; quadruple helix

Published:   Ahead of Print

Issue:   Gaming, Simulations and Planning: Physical and Digital Technologies for Public Participation in Urban Planning (Forthcoming)


© Mark Tewdwr-Jones, Alexander Wilson. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.